Is building more connected school communities key to stemming violence?
Responding to a steady stream of school shootings this year, the Trump administration has pushed to “harden” schools with extra security and armed teachers, but Hechinger Report contributor and Brookings Institution fellow Andre Perry writes that "school connectedness" is a more effective way to combat school violence.
“School connectedness,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is achieved when students believe adults and their peers care not only about their learning, but about their well-being as individuals, providing a sense of emotional security and a connection to a school community.
What’s causing school violence, according to Perry, isn’t a lack of safety, but rather students who don’t feel secure and cared for in their school communities.
“Emotionally healthy, well-adjusted youth don’t tear through their classrooms armed with weaponry,” Perry writes before detailing the CDC's four main pillars for school connectedness: adult support, positive peer groups, a welcoming school environment, and student commitment to education.
What Perry describes as “school connectedness” could also easily be categorized as social-emotional learning (SEL), a growing trend in the K-12 arena.
In a recent post for eSchool News, Langley Elementary (D.C.) Principal Vanessa Drumm-Canepa detailed how a push for SEL was critical to a school culture transformation that aimed to address dropping enrollment numbers, increasing suspension rates, and overwhelming student dissatisfaction.
Since implementing SEL at Langley, the school’s suspension rate has fallen from 65% to 23%, and student satisfaction has jumped from 70% to 86%.The results at Langley were further reinforced by the American Institutes for Research, which explained how “health and learning are interdependent.”
For schools looking to implement or improve “school connectedness,” the CDC offers some tips. It suggests that schools:
Create decision-making processes that facilitates engagement, academic achievement, and staff empowerment by creating more opportunities for bottom-up decision making, allocating age-appropriate responsibilities to students, and partnering with the community for services at the school like dental care and substance abuse treatment.
Provide opportunities for families to be involved in a student’s academic life through chances for parents to increase their own skills through avenues like GED courses or an English as Second Language class, meaningful volunteer opportunities, and strong communication between parents and teachers.
Provide students the academic, emotional and social skills to be engaged in the school community through tutoring programs, extended learning opportunities like summer camp, and the teaching of refusal and resistance skills that help students identify problematic behavior and peer pressure.
Use effective classroom management and teaching methods to foster a positive learning environment by communicating clear expectations, creating a reward systems for both academics and extracurriculars, and encouraging open communication that values all viewpoints.
Provide professional development and support for teachers and other school staff, enabling them to meet the diverse cognitive, emotional and social needs of children and adolescents. This can be done by setting up opportunities for teachers to observe other effective educators in the school building, providing training for all school curricula, and encouraging teaching that focuses on child development.
Create trusting and caring relationships that promote open communication among administrators, teachers, staff, students, families and communities. This could be done through a school structure that might have teachers stay with the same students for three years in elementary and middle school and two years in high school. Another important suggestion is having students at all skill levels interact and form friendships.
- The Hechinger Report For safer schools, we need more hugs, not more guns